Pienaar rekindles old debate

By Ed AaronsBBC Sport
Steven Pienaar
Steven Pienaar

Steven Pienaar's retirement has dealt a hammer blow to South Africa's plans for next year's Africa Cup of Nations on home soil.

But it also highlights the pressures African stars face ahead of the event.

This is because every time the continental showpiece comes round, one issue rears its head: club or country.

The fact that Pienaar made it clear that he is retiring to concentrate on his club career has brought the debate back into sharp focus.

Indeed, the tug of war between club and country is especially frequent in the English Premier League where Pienaar plies his trade with Everton.

The former Ajax Amsterdam, Borussia Dortmund and Tottenham Hotspur midfielder is the latest South African player to end his international career prematurely.

The 30-year-old stated that he was struggling to cope with the demands of playing for club and country.

Observers will no doubt point at the forthcoming Nations Cup finals as the catalyst for the 62-cap midfielder's decision.

As Fifa rules state that players must be released two weeks before the competition begins in Johannesburg on 19 January, Everton manager David Moyes would have been faced with the prospect of losing the South African for up to five weeks.

But it is Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund who is now left to prepare to host the Nations Cup for the second time without his most high-profile player.

Many fans, though, would argue that 'Schillo' has never quite hit the same heights wearing the national team shirt as he has for Everton.

A return of just three goals for his country is poor for a player of his undoubted ability.

But Igesund must now plan for life without him having been told on taking over from former coach Pitso Mosimane that he must at least reach the semi-finals of the continent's biggest event.

Yet Pienaar's decision could have far reaching implications.

After Zambia's success last year in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, the Confederation of African Football decided to hold the tournament during odd years to avoid a clash with the World Cup and maintain its status as a top-tier event.

But if the Nations Cup continues to lose any more players of Pienaar's pedigree, it will be diluted as a product.